You’re having a quick lunch at Arrillaga when, suddenly, disaster strikes. Someone you vaguely know starts up a conversation. Aside from the fact that you wanted some alone time, you completely forgot their name, and they clearly did not forget yours. You start with that awkward, drawn out “heyyyy” and hope that it’s not too obvious that you have no idea how to end the greeting. And it gets worse from there: you actually have a great conversation, and as you get up, you prepare to say goodbye. At this point it’s definitely too late to ask for their name. You’re in too deep. You part ways until the next time you see this nameless menace. You can only hope that the next time someone else is there to recite the menace’s name.
Why does this story play out often on our campus? Stanford is just the right size to breed this confusion. It’s not small enough for everyone to know everyone, but not big enough for everyone to be anonymous. For me, forgetting someone’s name is a horrible feeling. I genuinely enjoy and appreciate the conversations I’ve had, and that just makes it worse.
But why do we have this fear of asking a name? I know when someone forgets my name and they tell me, it doesn’t bother me. I understand that we’re all busy and that it’s something that just happens. Yet when I have the opportunity to ask someone name, I often say nothing.
This all came to mind because the other day someone asked how to pronounce my name. Now, my name isn’t hard to pronounce at all, which means that was a clear ploy to ask my name – and, honestly, it made it worse. No one had ever asked for my name’s pronunciation and it was just a bit jarring.
We all have a weird relationship with names. They can define who we are, yet many of us don’t enjoy our names. There’s a saying that there are two times a person dies: once when they physically pass away and once when their name is said for the last time. Our names are connected to us whether we like it or not.
So the next time you forget someone’s name, I encourage you just to ask. Odds are that they won’t mind, and if someone gets extremely mad about you not knowing their name well, it wasn’t worth it in the first place. Take the opportunity to really get to know someone. You don’t always know what you will find.
Contact Ricky Rodriguez at rickyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.